Monday, May 31, 2010

The Best of Both Worlds - Comfortable, Warm, Delicious French Cooking in a Modern, Ultra Chic Setting - RH at the Andaz

* Update: Chef Archambault is no longer at RH.

Warm sunlight pouring in through the curtains on a lazy weekend. The delightful smell of a homemade stew at Grandma's house. Sometimes, all you want to eat is the soul-warming food of a home cooked meal. But it's also fun to get dressed up and have a night on the town, going to a restaurant where ambiance is king; something ultra chic and stylish, just for the aesthetics and effervescence around the room. In the realm of French cuisine, trying to find a local restaurant that can deliver both is something of a rarity these days. Thankfully we have RH at the Andaz, whose comforting, delightful menu evokes the feeling of eating a homemade meal, wrapped up in a gorgeous, modern dining room that makes you feel like you're in a Hollywood movie. :)

I remember first hearing about RH from a glowing review by the LA Times. Then, veteran Hound J.L. posted about a great meal there, and I knew I had to give it a try at that point. :) Helmed by Chef Sebastien Archambault (who earned 1 Michelin Star at Le Pirate (Corsica, France), and served under Guy Savoy at Les Bouquinistes (Paris, France), as well as Alain Ducasse (Paris, France)), the menu is inspired by "his grand-mere's Perigord kitchen," and it shows in nearly every facet.

Entering RH from the Andaz Hotel's lobby, you're treated to a sexy, minimalist design; clean lines, elegance, yet thankfully without any of the pretension you fear might be attached to something looking like this.

At the heart of the dining room and restaurant is the beautiful open kitchen, where you can watch Chef Archambault and his staff preparing the evening's dishes.

Dinner usually begins with their complimentary Farmers' Market Crudite plate.

I love the simplicity of the dish and the confidence Chef Archambault has with his ingredients. There's just something satisfying about actually tasting the raw, unbridled flavors featured each time we visit. The Radishes taste so fresh and bright, and the Purple Cauliflower exude a deep earthy quality. Their House-made Yogurt Mint Sauce provides a cooling creaminess if you want additional flavoring.

Their Bread Service begins soon after, with RH making sure you're always served warm, toasty Bread (a huge plus for me :).

We begin with their Perigourdine Poached Egg (Field Mushrooms, Foie Gras, Black Truffle).

It was only after I took the first bite that I realized how much I missed Black Perigord Truffles. There's a beautiful fragrance that's unmistakable, which engages your sense of smell before you even taste. And then the soft, quivering Poached Egg breaks open to bestow this amazing silky, creamy quality to every bite. :) The combination of Oyster, Chanterelle and Black Trumpet Mushrooms only add to the beauty of this dish; and Chef Archambault serves it with pieces of fresh Bread covered with Truffle Butter. Just lovely. (^_^)

Next up is their Prince Edward Island Mussel Risotto and Squid Ink (with Calamari, Baby Spinach and Field Mushrooms).

The Risotto is near-perfect. It's toothsome with a nice structure, and a kiss of the ocean from the Prince Edward Island Mussels and use of Squid Ink. The Calamari are perfectly cooked through so it's supple, yet still retains a playful chew. The Mussels are lightly briny and bright. Overall a surprisingly good Risotto that illustrates Chef Archambault's prowess.

My favorite French comfort food is Duck Confit, so I'm always on the lookout for a great local version, until my next trip to Paris. :) Chef Archambault's version arrives soon after: Homemade Crispy Hudson Valley Duck Leg Confit (with Sauteed Potatoes, Green Onion, Garlic, Parsley).

I gingerly take a bite:

Delicious! (^_^)

Perfectly crisped Duck Skin, tender meat throughout; it's moist, juicy and perfectly salted. It's easily the closest I've gotten to my favorite versions of Duck Confit in Paris. Wow. :)

Their consistency could use a little work, as ordering it a 2nd and 3rd time on subsequent visits resulted in one "very good" (but a touch dried out on one edge), and one "near perfect" (moist, juicy, but *just* a touch saltier than the 1st time) version. Overall, it's still one of the best versions I've experienced around town. Excellent. :)

Our sides arrive at this point, with their Mesclun Salad being a straightforward version, within expectations.

Probably the only disappointment this evening would be their famed Triple Fried French Fries.

They fry them 3 times - in Duck Fat, no less - and it sounds like an instant winner :), but sadly they arrive too saturated with fat, and these Fries have the fastest half-life I've seen for any dish to date, with their enticing crispiness fading to a dried out, cold shell of its initial form in mere minutes(!). :( (It's been the same way during the 2nd and 3rd visits as well.)

Perhaps their most interesting sounding item on the menu is their 12-Hour-Cooked Boneless Suckling Pig (Artichokes, Rosemary Jus).

Chef Archambault first braises a whole Suckling Pig for 4 hours in Red Wine, Garlic and Shallots, finishing it off, cooking it in Duck Jus and Artichokes for 8 hours, before finally pulling it completely off the bone and hand-molding them for each dish.

The result is a meltingly tender slab of condensed Sucking Pig. :) It's super moist with hints of Rosemary and a massive depth with the Red Wine braise. Delicious! :)

It should be noted that since Chef Archambault debones the entire Suckling Pig, each piece differs from time-to-time. One piece may have just a bit more of an Offal undertone (probably because that piece contained some of the Liver). During my 2nd visit, one of my dear guests had received a piece that tasted more Offal-heavy than just pure Pork Shoulder (that one might expect) and that threw off their impressions of this dish.

I had such a wonderful time during my 1st visit, I couldn't wait to return with more guests and sample more of the menu. :)

As before, their Crudite plate and Bread are excellent.

During this visit, we start with their Perigord Spring Fava Bean Soup.

I fall in love with the Soup before I even try it: It's presented in an absolutely adorable, rustic presentation. (^_^) There's a gorgeous consistency, it's clean, pure and filled with a genuine Fava Bean essence running throughout. There's a nice smoky undertone from the Bacon, and Chef Archambault reinforces the celebration of Fava Beans with large, soft chunks of Fava Beans within the Soup itself, creating a wonderful exploration of dual textures of the same ingredient. This was our favorite dish of the entire evening. :)

Our next starter is their Hudson Valley Foie Gras Terrine (Plum Marmalade, Arugula, Homemade Brioche).

RH's Foie Gras Terrine is fine; it's a little more pungent than what I'm used to, having more of a strong organ funk, but otherwise it's a solid dish. Be careful about using too much of their Plum Marmalade: It's very sweet, and a small dab is more than sufficient for each bite.

Their Lompoc Farm Grilled Spring Vegetable Salad (Fresh Cabecou Goat Cheese, Sage Vinaigrette) is a real surprise.

The Asparagus, Green Beans and Snow Peas are lightly sauteed before being plated with raw field greens. This is what using Farmers' Market ingredients are all about: It's so vibrant and clean, with a real green flavor. I can't recall enjoying the wondrous flavors of Asparagus and Green Beans as much as I've enjoyed them in this salad in the past year. And the Cabecou Goat Cheese is a much more mild Goat Cheese than most brands, which helps keep things in balance.

It seems that when Chef Archambault moves away from the endearing, home cooking and into the more fussy dishes that things begin to slip, such as with his Seared Diver Scallops, Sweet Corn Gnocchi, Red Pepper, Romaine Leaves, Sage Jus.

While Scallops have an excellent sear, they taste too briny, and the Sweet Corn Gnocchi is quite chunky and mealy.

Their side of Sauteed Field Mushrooms are an excellent accompaniment to most of our dishes, with a beautiful woodsy aroma coming out after being sauteed with Garlic, Chives and Butter.

RH is a decent-sized restaurant, so it's even more impressive that Chef Archambault handles the Dessert Menu as well. I love Peanut Butter, so I can't resist trying their Homemade Peanut Butter Ice Cream. (^_~)

It's outrageously good! (^_^) One of my guests can't wipe a perpetual smile off her face, and I can't stop smiling either. It's more like a Semifreddo than the usual deep frozen Ice Cream, but that just makes it even better; it's cool and chilled, but not freezing. Besides the hypnotizing density, there's a true Peanut aroma and taste coming through with each bite. Delicious! :)

Unfortunately, their Red Blossom Farm Berries Mille-Feuille falters.

The Mille-Feuille is burnt and the crust is bitter, and as fresh as the Strawberries tasted, it couldn't save this dish. This is one example where hiring a dedicated Pastry Chef might be worth consideration.

Recently, I had some out-of-town guests visiting, which was a perfect excuse to return for a 3rd visit. :)

We begin with Six Fanny Bay Oysters (Shallot Vinegar, Roasted Pork Sausage).

The Fanny Bay Oysters are vibrant and fresh, but the kitchen needs to hire someone that knows how to properly shuck an Oyster: There are bits of broken Shell in every Oyster on the plate.

But the surprise of this dish would have to be the Pork Sausage that accompanies the Oysters. I never thought of having Pork Sausage with fresh Oysters, but it turns out to be a brilliant complement by Chef Archambault. The Pork Sausage is extremely juicy, mild and bursting with flavor.

Their Braised Monkfish (White Beans, Chorizo La Quercia, Sauteed Squid) arrives next.

The Monkfish is firm, meaty yet still quite tender, almost like a more delicate Lobster. When eaten with a bit of the Chorizo La Quercia and Squid, there's an understated, focused balance to this dish that makes it a joy to eat and share with the guests at the table. :)

For something on the "lighter" side, try their Artichoke Hearts, which are sauteed in Butter and are beyond fork tender delicious. :)

For something heartier, their side of Cauliflower Gratin fits the bill nicely.

It's quite rich, creamy and piping hot, and very satisfying. My guests couldn't stop eating it. :)

I had planned on maintaining my Burger fast for at least another 2-3 months after the recent horrific, failed Burger exploration. (^_~) But for the sake of completeness and the fact that RH serves their Burger with Foie Gras(!), I broke my fast... sigh. :)

RH Burger (Black Angus Beef, Foie Gras, Morels, Truffled Triple Fried French Fries).

At $26, this is the most expensive of the Gourmet Burgers I've tried in So Cal, and I'm excited to see how it compares. I take a bite: It's ~decent. The Burger is cooked ~medium (when we asked for medium-rare), and there's a light, genuine beefy quality to the meat.

But there's not enough Foie Gras to pair with each bite of the Burger, and the biggest misstep is the Bun: Their Sesame Bun is extremely dry and literally sucks out the moisture from the Burger and your mouth with each bite you take. :( If they sourced a better Bun and included more Foie Gras, this could've been a contender.

And as lovely as their Duck Confit is, the best item on the menu may very well be the Slow Braised Beef Cheek (Button Mushrooms, Rainbow Carrots).

I love a great Beef Daube and Chef Archambault's version has just dethroned my previous local favorite at Anisette. Chef Archambault marinates the Beef Cheek with a Syrah, before slow braising it for 24 hours(!) before serving. What you get is absurdly tender Beef, completely permeated by the Syrah and oozing with slow-cooking love. The long-cooking stews, braises and soups are what remind me so much of great meals at my grandmother's house, and you get those types of dishes here. This was everyone's favorite dish of the evening. :)

We finish up this last visit with yet another taste of Chef Archambault's excellent Duck Confit. :) It's spot-on, with crisped skin, mostly tender and juicy meat and complex flavors; near perfect (although still a notch short of my favorites in Paris :).

Service at RH has been good, with our servers being generally attentive to our needs without too much waiting. It lacks the crispness of a really polished restaurant, but it's also the semi-casual quality in each of our servers that makes you feel more relaxed than you normally would be in a restaurant as stylish as this. Prices range from $9 - $30, with a $65 Niman Ranch Veal Chops for Two. We averaged about ~$65 per person (including tax and tip) across my 3 visits.

RH at the Andaz represents the type of cheerful, warm, home cooking found in more casual Brasseries around town, but elevated a notch through Chef Archambault's experiences in France, and neatly wrapped up in a gorgeous modern setting that's sophisticated without being pompous. There are a few hiccups that dot the menu (e.g., the Scallops and RH Burger), but there are far more winners (the majority of the menu), from a simple but vibrant Lompoc Farm Grilled Spring Vegetable Salad, to the velvety Perigord Spring Fava Bean Soup, to more decadent sultriness like their Perigourdine Poached Egg with Black Perigord Truffles and their 24 Hour Slow Braised Beef Cheeks. (^_^) Chef Archambault's cooking is disarmingly charming and comfortable, and utterly *delicious* at times, and it's a testament to his skills that I can't stop thinking about his Duck Confit and Homemade Peanut Butter Ice Cream. :) Wonderful.

Rating: 8.7 (out of 10.0)

RH at the Andaz Hotel (West Hollywood)
8401 Sunset Boulevard
West Hollywood, California 90069
Tel: (323) 785-6090

Hours: (Note: RH is officially open for Breakfast and Lunch (as the hotel's main restaurant), but Chef Archambault is only there for Dinner.)
[Dinner] 7 Days A Week, 5:30 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.


Cookie Chomper said...

Perigourdine Poached Egg with Black Perigord Truffle. I can almost smell the truffle essense. *drool*

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Cookie Chomper,

It's delicious. :) Let me know if you end up going and what you think of the meal.

Banana Wonder said...

Yum! I've always been curious about RH at the Andaz - I think some duck confit is on the docket now!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Anna,

Yes! :) Hope you enjoy your dinner there. :)

stuffycheaks said...

OMG thanks for the reminder of how awesome RH is! I still remember how mouth watering the Perigourdine Poached Egg was that I tried to make a poor mans version of my own with pate and mushrooms :) Oh btw.. that foie terrine is the real thing! It looks EXACTLY like the fresh ones i had every day in Paris over the xmas holiday. Yes def has a bit of that "funkier" taste but its legit!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi stuffycheaks,

Thanks for your thoughts. :) I'm happy to hear you like RH as well. (^_^) Love their Perigourdine Egg! And thanks for the Foie thoughts. :)

Gastronomer said...

The sauteed mushrooms and PB ice cream looked especially delicious! I hope that blogger prom will be returning to the premise. It'd be a great excuse to grab dinner here ;-)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Gastronomer,

While it's not very photogenic, definitely give their Beef Cheeks, Duck Confit and 12 Hour Suckling Pig a try! (^_~)


Mamsterla said...

I have been a fan since I went to it the week of the LA Times review. It is a shame that it is so empty.
I have to agree with you that the best things on the menu are the veal cheek and the perigord poached egg - they were great. Plus the food is truly a bargain - it is easy to spend more at places that do not compare. My gripe is the lack of professional waitstaff. Both my times there I was served by MAWs (model, actress, whatever).

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Mamsterla,

Glad to hear you're a fan as well. :) RH is really a special place in many regards.

LOL at the MAW. (^_~) Yes, luckily for us, there haven't been any issues in that regards (no attitude problems or bad service). It certainly could improve, but it works.

Shug said...

It looks like Chef Archambault has left, replaced by Pierre Gornes, based on the current info on the hotel's website.

Have you eaten there since Gornes took over and if so, how was it?

Thanks so much for the fantastically detailed review!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Shug,

Thanks for the reminder. I didn't update the top of this review yet (will now).

I have not been back, but it's unfortunate Chef Archambault is no longer at RH. If I go back, I'll be sure to let you know. Thanks.

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